by Christian M. Stempert
“This is a sanctuary. This is a safe space.” For a couple of hours, the More Light Presbyterians were able to retreat into one of the Westin Hotel’s ballrooms, away from the hard work and “hostile environment” of the PCUSA General Assembly. If you walk around the convention center, it seems like more than half the people in attendance have rainbow stoles draped around their necks so it is hard to imagine the GA is too terribly “hostile” to an aggressively pro-homosexual group. Nonetheless, the one hundred twenty or so attendees of the luncheon breathed an audible sigh of relief.
After serving as More Light’s Executive Director for thirteen years, Dr. Michael Adee stepped down and introduced his interim replacement, Dr. Patrick Evans. Evans is a former associate professor of sacred music at Yale University, and is currently the Artist-in-Residence at Broadway Presbyterian Church in New York City. He has been instrumental in the “welcoming church movement,” which is open to and seeks to affirm the LGBT community.
The main event of the luncheon was a panel titled: “Marriage Matters: Care for All Couples and Families.” in his introduction, Michael Adee read from a statement by Mildred Loving, one of the plaintiffs in Living v. Virginia, the U.S. Supreme Court case which struck down the legal barriers to interracial marriages.
I have lived long enough to now see big changes. The older generation’s fears and prejudices had given way and today’s young people realize that if someone loves someone they have a right to marry … All Americans no matter their race, no matter their sex, no matter their sexual orientation, should have the same freedom to marry. Government has no business imposing some people’s religious beliefs over others…
I am still not a political person, but I am proud that Richard’s and my name is on a court case that can help reinforce the love, the commitment, the fairness, and the family that so many people black or white, young or old, gay or straight seek in life.
The language of civil rights has been used frequently by those advocating for “marriage equality.” The failure to recognize same-sex marriage is a violation of the “basic rights and privileges” of homosexuals, and degrades them to “second-class citizens.”
Additionally, there is a lot of “pain and suffering” (their words, not mine) on the part of pastors who are unable to “properly care for” their LGBT parishioners because of the current church policy. But what exactly does the PCUSA not ministers to do? They can pray with and for their homosexual parishioners, counsel them, and provide loving support in other ways. They can even bless same-sex unions. The only restriction keeps ordained PCUSA ministers from conducting same-sex marriage ceremonies. The General Assembly and Permanent Judicial Committee has consistently ruled that performing marriage ceremonies lies outside the realm of basic, essential pastoral care, but the progressives insist that they are being forced to violate their consciences because of the “unenlightened tradition” of the church.
One of the panelists, Rev. David Ensign of Clarendon Presbyterian Church in Virginia, insisted that marriage should be a non-issue. “The church is not in the wedding business,” he said, “we are in the Jesus business.” The received sparse applause. When he concluded by saying that if we claim to love our homosexual friends, we should support what makes them happy – he received a full ovation.
Another panelist, Rev. Will McGarvey of Community Presbyterian, a joint UCC-PCUSA church in Pittsburg, California, insisted that homosexual marriages are acknowledged by God. “Weddings are vows between the individuals, that’s what matters – not the minister’s blessing.” Same-sex marriage, he said, is “covenant theology in action.”
Eric Thomas, a seminarian preparing for his final year at Johnson C. Smith Theological Seminary in Atlanta, reminded everyone that even while the PCUSA is “making progress,” “we cannot forget our brothers and sisters who are oppressed by their geography,” since not all states legally recognize same-sex marriage. “I hope the Presbyterian Church would just be what it says it is,” he said, “loving and welcoming to everyone.” The PCUSA recognizing “marriage equality” is “not a matter of if, but a matter of when, and I hope it’s now.”
Rev. Paul Rodkey of Bethany Presbyterian Church in Washington also spoke about the upcoming November election where same-sex marriage will be up for referendum. Western Washington, according to Rodkey, “questions any kind of authority except the Republican Party,” but he hopes that coastal cities and towns will help to “bring hope to a large portion of our population.” Another man stood up and said that the situation is the same in the state of Maryland. In closing, the assembly prayed that voters would come to a more “enlightened” understanding of marriage.